Kentucky didn’t invent country music, but its people are perfecting it.
Elvie Shane is living proof that nothing good happens overnight. A Kentucky native more familiar with the backroads of hill country than the bright lights of major cities, Shane has spent the last decade slowly building momentum for his career with homespun stories of life lived on the fringes of society. Like his country music heroes before him, he recognizes the value of earning that audience’s trust. His music is the soundtrack for countless people caught in the everyday struggle of survival, resting nicely between the lonesome yearning of Appalachian storytellers and the catchiness of something written in the Nashville city limits.
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On Friday, May 5, Shane served as the opening act for The Cadillac Three in the main room of The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI. Appearing with a guitar in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other, Shane ripped through a collection of lived experiences set to music as the crowd of several hundred drank their fill. It was one of those opening sets that could feel thankless under any other condition. As Shane played his heart out, the crowd’s murmur continued like an unwanted bed to the music. Still, the Caneyville native played as if the room was hanging onto each note.
Then something magical started to happen. As Shane told his stories and sang his songs, the crowd’s roar began to quiet as people started paying attention to the bearded man with slicked-back hair cracking jokes about his sister between songs of hardship. If people weren’t listening before the viral hit “My Boy,” they were by the time the first hook ended. “I wrote this one about eight years ago,” Shane said before switching to the “My Girl” version of the track, “but nobody cared except you—you made this happen.” Everyone cheered in revelry.
Emboldened with the swagger of someone who appreciates praise without needing it, Elvie Shane harnessed the attention garnered by the fan favorite to hold viewers’ attention with a few additional cuts before ending his set. His latest, “Forgotten Man,” once again plays into the lifestyle of people in places that the modern age has forgotten. The studio cut sounds like a Southerner’s take on Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” but stripped down the track reveals the simple truths that make Shane’s music so compelling.
“Daddy spent his whole life working for a dollar
Name on his patch, more like a badge of honor
Sent me off to school, tried to turn me to a scholar
Can’t unpaint the blue on my collar”
– Taken from “Forgotten Man”
Unlike many contemporary country artists who treat modern country living as an endless party filled with luxury products that listeners—the people stuck in the margins—somehow afford or a grueling life of suffering, Elvie Shane is a realist. He knows the good times are great and the bad times are miserable, but most days take place somewhere in between. If you can find peace in that knowledge, learning to ride the ebb and flow of life, then you never fall victim to the tragedy of quiet desperation. Anything that comes your way is a blessing, and everything else is meant for someone else. Be yourself, work hard, be kind, and the rest will unfold as it should.